Sunday, October 22, 2006

A New Name and a White Stone

You all know that my niece died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. Lisa had some pretty tough struggles. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and diabetes along with numerous other physical maladies. She also struggled in her soul with questions of worth and significance and had some mental disorders that were difficult for us to understand and treatment was hit and miss. And so, although her death was unexpected and painful to the family, it was also a release at the same time, because she has a brand new existence, and is totally healed of all of her health issues.

But back in the days of her struggles, an artist in her church gave her a painted white stone, with a cross painted on it. It was just a small stone that might be used as a paperweight.

My sister showed me that stone while I was there in Calgary. We wondered out loud what the significance of that white stone might be. And it came to me immediately.

In Revelation 2:17 Jesus is addressing one of the seven churches. He says,
”He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

I am learning that there are a couple of theories about the white stone. (the author of this sermon injects his errant theological views to 'colour' his research about the white stone.)

A comment here:
‘The Romans of New Testament times had a token of hospitality between two friends, which consisted of a tile of wood or stone, which was divided in half. Each person wrote his name on one of the two pieces, and then exchanged that piece with the other person. These were often kept and handed down from father to son. To produce the counterpart of one of these pieces would guarantee the hospitality of a real friend’

Against this identification, though, is the fact that Revelation does not mention stones being swapped, only that one is given. However, it does fit in well with the idea of being granted to eat of the hidden manna in the previous clause of the verse.

To eat with someone in the context of Biblical times was to enter in to a covenant relationship with them. Hence I Cor 11:20-22 - a love feast/communion meal was a time of sharing with one another and thus entering into covenant relationship with each other through Christ and because of Christ.

Similarly, that Jesus permits those in Pergamum to partake (Revelation only says ‘give’ without indicating consumption, however) of the hidden manna would indicate that they become united in covenant relationship through their participation in Him (who is the true manna - see above).

Each participant, Jesus regards as a special guest and a white stone is given upon which a name is written given to Him by God (see, for instance, Is 62:2, 65:15) to allow Him to enter freely into that great and final banquet (Rev 19:7, Mtw 22:1-14).

The white stone, as far as we can tell, had two meanings. One was that a white stone was used as a vote of acquittal. A vote for NOT GUILTY!

If you received a black stone, it meant you are guilty. If a black stone was cast in a decision, it was a vote of guilt. In fact, it is probable this is where the expression "to be black-balled" comes from.

The other meaning was that the white stone was a token of admission. If you were invited to a feast, you may receive a white stone, which you would show the porter as you enter the hall or the place of the feast.

In either case, the meaning is precious. I want to track down sources on this theme, and hope to revisit this topic with more research.

The new name generally signifies a new destiny. Although I don't think many people heard about it, at the memorial service we took that white stone and placed it in the hands of Lisa in the coffin, as a powerful symbol to the family, and a statement to the principalities and powers that she belongs to the Lord and none other. She has been acquitted of all of her sins, and she has a glorious new destiny!

And that is a tremendous comfort.

PS. If any of my readers find interesting sources of info or legend about The White Stone, please share them with me. I would be most interested in seeing your information.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Persecution Coming to the West?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Persecution is Coming to the West
Concealed Affliction May Soon Turn Into Open Persecution

By Wolfgang Polzer
Special to ASSIST News Service

BLANKENBURG (ANS) -- Persecution is coming to the West. Under the guise of tolerance Bible believing Christians of all confessions are subjected to suppressive intolerance, warns a declaration issued at the Ecumenical Confessional Convention in Blankenburg, East Germany.

The event with 130 Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox representatives was convened by the evangelical missiologist Prof. Peter Beyerhaus. The so-called Blankenburg Proclamation speaks of a dangerous anti-Christian influence on legislation, academic life and school education.

Scientists, who believe in God as the creator, were subjected to public defamation. Christians, not willing to compromise their faith, had to face ridicule, intolerance, stigmatization and career obstacles.

The declaration refers specifically to the plight of German homeschoolers. Approximately 150 families were subjected to fines or jail, because they refused to send their children to state registered schools and thus broke the German law.

According to the proclamation this “concealed affliction” may soon turn into open persecution. The threat could come from several directions - from globalization favoring the formation of totalitarian regimes, from growing syncretism, and from Islam.

Europe could be subjected to an enforced Islamization accompanied by the introduction of Sharia law. This danger was increased by the fact that the indigenous population is shrinking.

The proclamation also makes reference to the correlation between faith and suffering. It was part of the nature of the Christian faith to endure disadvantages and persecution for Christ’s sake. The 20th century had been the bloodiest in church history.

According to estimates by human rights organizations 200 million Christians suffer discrimination for their faith. Every year 170,000 Christians die a martyr’s death.
Wolfgang Polzer (56), is senior news editor of the Evangelical News Agency idea, Wetzlar (Germany), which he joined in 1981. In all, he has spent 30 years in Christian media. Wolfgang can be contacted by e-mail at:
** You may republish this story with proper attribution
Click here for the source

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why the Pain? A Theodicy from a Baby

In meeting with various individuals, I am learning that questions about theodicy are the ones being asked most frequently; i.e.“If God loves me so much, why doesn't He make the pain go away?"

I don't know the immediate answer to that question. But, if God is purely good, then I must believe that any trial that comes my way has a bigger purpose than I realize.

Let me tell you a true story that has helped me to accept some pain that I didn’t understand.

It happened when our firstborn daughter was only 5 months old. We were on our way to visit a friend one day. It was in the middle of winter. Snow was piled up all over the place. The baby was all wrapped up and just her sparkling eyes and red pug-nose were showing through the hooded bunting bag she was wearing. We loved that baby so much. We felt we could easily die for her to save her life if need be.

Walking towards the house, we discovered that the sidewalk was very slippery. Just before we reached the door of the house, my wife, who was carrying the baby, slipped and fell. It was a nasty fall, and I can see it in slow motion yet. Her feet went out from under her and shot forward. She instinctively clutched the baby close to her, and did not let go. She could have saved herself or at least made the fall a little less painful, but that would have meant dropping the baby in order to minimize her own pain or risk of injury. She landed on hard, jagged ice with a bone-crunching thud on her left hip. It caused her excruciating pain. Upon impact, our baby, who was up until this point in a perfect state of contentment, panicked. Her mouth opened wide with a scream of shock and some pain at being jarred out of her sleepy comfort zone of existence.

What I remember most about that moment was that her scream then turned from shock into anger and was directed at US. She was frightened and angry, and for the life of her, she couldn't understand WHY her parents, from whom she has only known warm fuzzies and overabundant love, would suddenly do this to her! Of course, at that stage in her development, we couldn't explain to her that her Mom absorbed far more pain than the baby could imagine, in order to save the baby from real injury. All the baby could possibly know was what she experienced in her own world.

Although the analogy falls short because God doesn’t have accidents, it is helpful. We often direct our anger and frustration at God, without having a clue about what the Lord might be experiencing. I believe He does experience grief, and certainly the pain and anguish He experienced on the cross is something we can only appreciate from a great distance. Yet He did it for us. I often think that whatever He allows into my life, is something like that fall on the ice. And that perhaps this trial, this particular pain is to prevent me from going in a direction that would be far worse in terms of destruction and damage. And even if I don’t understand it, I can accept it, because I know His intentions towards me are always, without exception, loving and good. Think about it.

"Isaiah 53:4 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted."

The joy of 'older age'

Being a 'grandpa' isn't so bad. There's an upside.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Spiritual Blindness

I was browsing a book entitled, "In His Image" by Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey and learned something that fascinated me. He speaks of people who had recovered their sight after living their lives in blindness. The process of learning to actually make sense of what they saw is a long and tedious process. Indeed, some of his patients even (sadly) expressed a preference to being blind.

He relates how depth perception and other kinds of spatial dimensions present real problems to the newly sight-recovered. Some were not able to distinguish shapes, such as the difference between forks and spoons. Another experiment revealed that some could not distinguish between circles, squares and triangles. One spouse could not recognize his wife by sight. He had to touch a small area of her cheek before he recognized her as his wife.One patient walked off the edge of a building, not having any depth perception.

This brought to mind an incident in a most powerful way in the Gospels. Jesus heals a blind man. The Blind Man is miraculoulsy healed; his eyes are opened but he says he sees men like trees walking. He could not distinguish between the shapes of humans and trees.

Something else I learned from Paul Brand is that size differentiation is very difficult for such a person. One blind person saw no difference in size between his mother and a book.

So it is no wonder that Jesus touched the Blind man a second time. As some commentators have observed, Jesus' first touch was not an imperfect healing. His first touch healed his eyesight. His second touch healed his brain so that he could make sense of the optics that were making its first impressions through the optic nerves. The blind man had no referents nor previous knowledge to differentiate between men and trees.

The implications of all of this on spiritual blindness? How necessary it is to follow through on discipleship. Young Christians who are first enlightened by Jesus Christ need to learn to understand what they see. They acquire a new world view that comes with the new birth and everyting looks differently.
John 1:4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

If the physical analogy carries over into the spiritual, it is no wonder that God has to bring life to a person by instilling faith in the heart. In the real world, the images that are seen by a newly healed sighted person don't make any sense. It must be similar in a spiritual sense. Here a passage from 1 Corinthians2 to think about.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.[c] 14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Whose Image Do You See?

No doubt most readers of Scripture have had this kind of experience. You've read the same passage many times in your lifetime. In fact, your familiarity with the passage keeps you from gaining new insights. When it happens, that's when you slap your forehead with an "Oh yeah! Of course! Why didn't I see that?"

It happened to me the other day. Jesus is being asked a trick question. Here is the passage:

15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

21"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

22When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

The question, "Whose portrait is this?" is key. Of course, it was a likeness of Caesar.
It was on the basis of the image that Jesus then said the following words:

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

The question I never asked was, "What is God's?"

Well, I did ask it, but then answered all too quickly due to my 'familiarity' with the story. I would normally answer, "Everything is God's."
But Jesus' answer points to something far more focused and specific.

What (or who) else was present in this incident with a stamped image of its maker? The very Pharisees, who sought to entrap Jesus were now trapped.

They themselves bore the marks of their Maker in their very being. Humans are made in the image of God, just as the coin was made in the image of Caesar. Jewish religious leades would have instantly recognized the trap they themselves had fallen into.

Jesus had turned tables on them, and left them sputtering. Of course! Their loyalty to God was to take priority over every other loyalty. Thus, pay to God what is God's due. You belong to Him by way of creation. Give Him your all and be doubly His by way of redemption. This is precisely why Christianity is such a boon for democracies (inner restraint) and a threat to totalitarian regimes.

(With thanks to Vishal Mangalwadi for this insight)